With Syracuse men’s basketball entering a crucial stretch of its schedule and men’s lacrosse season just 11 days away, you’re forgiven if yesterday’s 2022 SU football schedule announcement flew under your radar. Opening day is still seven months away, but let’s take a way-too-early look at ‘Cuse’s schedule and dissect which five games Dino Babers’ squad needs to circle on its calendar ahead of time.
5. Week 2 at UConn
You may scoff at one of SU’s softer matchups hitting the fifth spot on this list, but there’s plenty to consider. Firstly, it speaks to the quality of Syracuse’s 2021 season that such a non-conference game takes on only this much importance – last year, we listed the UAlbany game as the number one most important contest for a ‘Cuse squad coming off a snakebitten 1-10 year. The 2022 Orange enter this Fall fresh off a four-game improvement and came just a game away from a bowl.
Syracuse can and should defeat UConn in Week 2 this Fall, but where the game lands on the schedule gives it some added urgency. It’s SU’s first road game of the year against a former Big East combatant that’s coming off a humiliating 1-11 season, and sits between a home opener against Louisville (more on that one later) and a Dome test against always-scary Purdue. SU badly needs to take care of business against the Huskies to avoid potentially starting 0-3 thanks to some other opponents it may not match up very well against.
4. Week 1 vs. Louisville
Right now, it appears that SU drew a pretty short straw with its season opener. Louisville presents one of the more difficult openers for this team in recent memory – perhaps on par with 2020’s test against Sam Howell and UNC – making it all the more intriguing to see what the Orange do against a Cardinal team that consistently takes their lunch money.
Since 2014, Syracuse is 1-7 against Louisville and has lost each of those seven games by at least 22 points. Last season, quarterback Malik Cunningham incinerated SU in a 41-3 UL romp that effectively ended Syracuse’s bowl hopes. The Cardinals won’t be ranked on opening weekend and questions remain about their defense, but the team’s speed and offensive talent (including Cunningham, who’s returning for his redshirt senior season) have routinely scorched Syracuse’s defense. What SU and defensive coordinator Tony White’s unit shows in this one will go a long way to stir excitement and reveal the goods the ‘22 team possesses.
3. Week 4 vs. UVA
Due to a scheduling quirk, Week 4’s matchup against UVA is the third of five home games SU has in its first six weeks. That makes it all the more important that Syracuse keeps it together at home against a beatable team ahead of a stretch of death from mid-to-late October: consecutive matchups against NC State, Clemson, and Notre Dame could mean a turbulent (and potentially winless) period of several weeks awaits Dino Babers.
Like UConn in Week 2, Virginia comes to the Dome in late September ahead a key part of the schedule. A gimme game against perennial FCS punching bag Wagner College awaits the following week. UVA hasn’t been tabbed as a serious contender in the ACC Coastal Division, but they present a pretty significant trap game opportunity ahead of SU’s easiest matchup. Syracuse can’t bank on old Cavaliers tape, either – the team has new coaches all around including head coach Tony Elliott, who’s now directing an offense operating without former offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck. Both of those latter names are now employed by SU.
2. Week 10 vs. Florida State
Arguably no loss hurt the Orange during the 2021 season more than an early October trip down to Tallahassee. SU stumbled against a then-winless Florida State squad in a 33-30 defeat that ultimately cost ‘Cuse a bowl game. This season, the ‘Noles sit in waiting for Syracuse’s last home game of the year on November 12th. As ‘Cuse’s 2022 schedule progresses, the gradient gets steeper and makes this late-season tilt one of the team’s most crucial.
FSU proved it was better than its 0-4 start in 2021 by finishing 5-7, and the strong finish may have saved head coach Mike Norvell’s job. The Seminoles lost very little in the offseason and saw statistical improvements on its offensive line and defense – two units that played a big role in FSU’s upset win over SU in 2021. If Syracuse is still thinking about a bowl in November, this is a game it needs to net.
1. Week 9 at Pitt
The most important game for Syracuse on its 2022 schedule is actually one of its toughest. You may be tempted to put the season finale against BC at number one, but it’s hard to know what Syracuse’s record will be by the final weekend of the year. If SU can’t scrape out wins against good teams around midseason, the BC game will end up not mattering after all.
Pitt looks to be a tough team next year. Even though quarterback Kenny Pickett is gone, the team returns all five offensive linemen, All-American wideout Jordan Addison, and one of the nation’s better defenses. Syracuse will have its hands full with Pittsburgh – especially on the road – but this is a game it may need to have. There’s too many other tough matchups on the schedule to bet on SU skating into a bowl game. If the Orange want to get to bowl season, they’ll have to win at least one game they enter as underdogs – and this one seems more likely than flipping the script on an explosive NC State team, escaping Death Valley with a win, or upending Notre Dame at home. Think last year’s Liberty and Virginia Tech games – two matchups SU wasn’t supposed to have, but that put it in a position to play for a bowl during the season’s final week.
Which team ended up keeping Syracuse out of a bowl? None other than the Pittsburgh Panthers. If Dino Babers can get his team revved up for a revenge game against Pitt, it’ll do quite a bit to put the Orange in competitive position come postseason time.